Victims waiting years for justice as system operates at ‘unacceptable levels’, watchdogs say

Joint inspection says situation ‘cannot go on’ as too few crimes solved and backlogs continue

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Tuesday 17 May 2022 00:00
Comments
<p>By the end of 2021, a quarter of crown court cases had been waiting for longer than a year to be heard</p>

By the end of 2021, a quarter of crown court cases had been waiting for longer than a year to be heard

Too many victims are waiting years for justice as the system operates at “unacceptable levels” following Covid restrictions, a report has found.

A joint probe by the inspectorates for police, prosecutors, prisons and probation said the government had failed to fully mitigate risks it identified last year.

The watchdogs said the criminal justice system had been in a “parlous state before Covid-19, and that shock has made it worse”.

“While the constraints on daily life have now been dropped, the criminal justice system is a long way from recovery and in some parts continues to operate at unacceptable levels,” concluded a report published on Tuesday.

“The system is getting by because of an artificially supressed level of activity and reduced performance management and quality expectations, which cannot go on.”

The report warned that rising crime was increasing demand on the system, but too few offences are being solved and that the government’s recruitment of 20,000 new police officers “will do little to address the lack of experienced detectives” and specialists.

Under 6 per cent of recorded crimes now result in a charge in England and Wales, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is struggling to recruit enough staff, while the pandemic has caused a shortage of independent barristers it can commission.

The report said that by the end of 2021, a quarter of crown court cases had been waiting for longer than a year to be heard.

“The prospect of waiting years for justice is likely to be traumatising for victims and their families and has a damaging impact on justice itself, making it more likely that victims will drop out of cases,” it added.

“The burden on police, the CPS and court staff of the live caseloads and backlogs in the courts is immense.”

In the probation system, services are being restructured to undo the Conservatives’ disastrous privatisation programme, but the new Probation Service has “inherited issues from its predecessors, including a lack of qualified and experienced probation officers”.

The watchdogs raised concern about how the public is being protected from released offenders, while those in prison are still being subject to Covid restrictions that reduce opportunities for education, training and rehabilitation.

The report said that because of staff shortages, “people are leaving prison and/or finishing community sentences without addressing their offending behaviour”.

The watchdogs called for the government to coordinate an overarching plan across the whole criminal justice system, to stop the currently “disjointed” efforts to recover from Covid.

Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, accused the government of “letting criminals off and letting victims down”.

“Victims of crime are now typically waiting more than two years to get justice, leading too many to drop out altogether, creating a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system,” he added.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said decades of underfunding and cuts mean there “simply aren’t enough judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers left to cover the huge backlog of cases”.

President Stephanie Boyce added: “Sustained investment is needed across the criminal justice system and, as the report points out, the plan must be coordinated for the system to recover, otherwise changes in one area will have a negative impact on another.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said too many inmates were spending “endless days behind a cell door, with all the disastrous consequences for both health and public protection”.

“In that context, the government’s insatiable appetite to have ever more people in prison is more irrational than ever,” he added.

“The report correctly remembers that the justice system was on its knees before the pandemic struck. What it needs now is fundamental reform, not an obsession with simply looking tougher than your political opponents.”

A government spokesperson said it had invested almost almost half a billion pounds in reducing the crown court backlog, with extra courtroom capacity and increased sentencing powers for magistrates.

“The number of outstanding cases is falling and we have now eased the restrictions across our prisons which kept staff, prisoners and the wider community safe,” the statement added.

“We have over 4,000 more prison officers than in 2016 and are recruiting probation officers at record levels to improve public protection.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in